Category Archives: Architecture

Castor and Pollux – Symbols of Brotherhood and Unity

Gemini is the sign of the zodiac from 21 May to 21 June and depicts the mythical twins Castor and Pollux, the names of the brightest stars in the Gemini constellation. Twin sons of Zeus and Leda, they appeared in both Greek and Roman mythology and were worshipped as gods who helped shipwrecked sailors.

This association is linked to the natural phenomenon called St. Elmo’s fire which occurs during certain stormy weather conditions. It appears as a glow on the top of tall pointed objects, such as the masts of ships, and is often accompanied by a cracking noise. When stars appeared on the heads of Castor and Pollux during the Voyage of the Argonauts, the twins became known as the protectors of sailors. From that time, sailors believed that St. Elmo’s fire was actually Castor and Pollux coming to protect them during a storm.

The Romans also considered Castor and Pollux the gods who watched over horses and their riders. There is a lot more to read up on these two but to summarise – they stand as symbols of brotherhood and the bond that unites two people even after death.

When I completed these paintings, I wanted to add something celestial so I added tiny dots of pure gold, starry highlights above the genuine earth and mineral pigments.

These roundels can be found on the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem (below). It was funded entirely by public subscription from 1859 onward and built with the intention of making art, science and literature available to all. At the time, the estimated cost was £4,000 and the six year construction period began in 1863 with an official opening by Earl de Grey in 1869 as a library and school of art.

The facade is spectacular for all the sculpture, symbolism and stories woven in. Looking at the band of sculpted panels – these depict the working stages of pottery manufacture. They are elevated above the window arches.

Above these are the months depict the turning of the year and the continuous cycles of life. High at the top are the astrological signs of the celestial heavens which crown the arches with jewel-like mosaics.

This style of architecture is known as ‘Venetian Gothic’ and was made popular by the Victorian art critic John Ruskin. I have a book ‘John Ruskin Artist and Observer’ which gives an overview of the scale of artistic skill, passion and observation he had for life – put it on your birthday wish list – it will fire you up to sketch and draw!

Coming back to these drawings/paintings all completed using hand made paint with natural earth and mineral pigments. Here are May and June, the months which span Gemini. May ‘depicts a young woman growing mature as the plants are maturing in the ground’.

Let’s not think too far ahead but already June is ‘depicting an older man shearing a sheep’

All the original artworks for the months and zodiac signs are now available to buy from Barewall Gallery Burslem. When you buy through Barewall, you also support the livelihood of the Burslem community so more people benefit. After all, I am only painting what another artist has created a century before me!

Card sets are also available to buy in my Etsy shop. Can’t find what you need – don’t hesitate to get in touch!

As ever, thanks for your time reading!

Ronnie 🙂

The Months Tick by

Sometimes titles for blog posts just pop into my head. This was one of them. It was something that Dad would say – that things ‘ticked by’.

Here we are in a new year, and already into the last week of January 2021. Looking at these terracotta panels created back around 1865 – the months and the years have indeed ticked by.

Having taken so long to bring this body of work to completion, it does make me think about how each moment that passes is never repeated quite the same. Something in context has always changed.

Here the woman is holding the infant New Year in her arms as he learns to stand on his own feet, ready to run headlong into the year. It’s a fleeting moment especially when you see how he fast he grows into February later in this post.

Looking at these images on top of the Wedgwood Institute, the months and the zodiac signs are neatly paired up in alcoves. Back when I was planning my work out, I gave some thought to drawing each alcove in turn, but decided the repetition was too much for me!

Then I thought I could draw a single alcove template and scan the months and zodiac signs on to the template. However, that involved a lot of learning on Photoshop and at that point I glazed over and decided against the idea!

A mock up of the template of February/Pisces

The other thing that I couldn’t resolve was that the start of the months and zodiacs overlapped and that if I drew them together, there would always be someone looking at them saying I’m born in February but I’m not a Pisces!

It was a useful process though as it helped me decide to draw them all individually and here we are on with February.

When I signed them, I thought I had finished… so I put them away for what turned out to be a year. However, when I next saw them I immediately wanted to add more depth by setting them in a frame of rich red earth colours to hold them in place.

So January ticks by into February, the young year is now out there hard at work tilling the earth. Here’s a look ahead into March where he is planting the ground.

All the original paintings are available to buy from Barewall Gallery in Burslem and there are several full sets of signed cards available in my Etsy shop.

You can also see the full set of artwork on my website. If you see anything that is not yet for sale online – please drop me a line ronniecruwys@drawingthestreet.co.uk Things are selling a bit faster than I anticipated! 🙂

Here are the rest of the months – when they were all lined up ready for mounting and sending off to Barewall Gallery in Burslem.

This has been a fab project – so pleased to have brought it to completion and returned it back home to Burslem before being shipped far and wide.

Thanks for reading and happy Burns Night!

Ronnie 🙂

I’ve Started so I’ll Finish

Looking up at the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Have you ever looked up at a building and marvelled at the creativity that has gone into it? Have you thought about the artists and makers and the hours of planning and co-ordination spent to pull something like the Wedgwood Institute together? This building must have been a labour of love for so many.

‘November’ high up on the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Whilst I was living in Staffordshire, I wanted to draw every last detail of this building simply to acknowledge it was there. I began with the main entrance which you can see in full here.

Detail of ‘Wedgwood Institute Door’, showing the stone carving, brick and tilework

I had great plans to draw so much more of this building but life had other plans for me. Just as I had got the next phase of artwork underway, we got news of the move to Scotland and so things went on hold.

Sign of Pisces

However, I had already begun drawing the months of the year and the zodiac symbols in the arches above and so at some point I knew I would finish them – I don’t like leaving a body of work unfinished. Besides, I had begun work on some beautiful heavy watercolour paper (Saunders Waterford 640gsm Not) which is a thick as carboard with a rippling texture and a wonderful surface to paint/draw on.

I pencilled in the outline using a compass to contain the astrological symbols.

I had taken photographs of the existing zodiac signs but some were under cover and some had areas of mosaic missing. I looked up old record photos and in places where details were hazy, I used creative licence and painted them to compliment the rest of the images.

The mosaic symbols were made in bright blues, greens and whites against a deep red background. I used ground up mineral pigments of azurite, malachite and the red and yellow ochre earth pigments that I use to paint icons to capture the life, depth and movement of these rich symbols.

Malachite being broken down to small chunks using a pestle and mortar.
Malachite being ground to a fine pigment
Pisces – the fish

This was as far as I got with the zodiac symbols before I began to pack up to move north. I had made some progress into painting the images of the months – about three or four of them… but enough to have me hooked to want to complete, come what may.

Now, almost four years since I made the first sketches of these images, I’m so happy that I can say I have completed this part and will be sharing what I’ve done to complete them over the next few blog posts.

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie 🙂

Rainbows of Lanark

Calling all Lanark artists! Lanark Tolbooth Trust and Lanark Community Development Trust have put their heads together and come up with a great idea for artists living within 7 miles of Lanark, by holding a rainbow themed art competition.

lanark under lockdown artwork by ronnie cruwys
YMCA, St Nicholas Church, Tolbooth window ,

The competition is to create rainbow inspired images for an exhibition to be held at the Tolbooth, Lanark when the restrictions are lifted.

lanark under lockdown artwork by ronnie cruwys

They have been inspired by the uplifting colourful pictures of rainbows that children have put in their windows spreading messages of hope and thanks to the NHS and key workers.

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Images from New Lanark

I thought I would do something a little different…

I don’t think I’ve mentioned here yet but since last October (until lockdown) I had been attending a weekly drawing and mixed media class at Paintbox School of Art in East Lothian. I’ll get round to telling you a bit more about the classes on another day (they’re great!) but for now I’ve discovered that preparing your surface makes quite a difference to your work.

lanark under lockdown artwork by ronnie cruwys
New Lanark

There are many ways to do this but for the idea I had in mind, I wanted a lightly textured background, for a mostly monochrome drawing apart from the rainbows.

In my mind’s eye, I had a composition of disordered buildings, interweaving fragments drawn very simply, with the emphasis on windows and the rainbow posters. I’ve only been into Lanark twice since lockdown so it felt apt that it was more dreamlike. The monochrome sums up how things feel at the moment and helps the rainbows pop out.

Rough sketch of one of the compositions. This was a bit too congested so I thinned out the final sketch.

I prepared 4 sheets of A3 paper with a coat of white emulsion paint mixed with a dash of blue grey. It gives a chalky tooth for the graphite and a varied flow to ink. I then worked directly on to the paper, starting with one key building placed off-centre and then placed other buildings in response to that one and so on.

This shows the simplified line drawing and the textured background.

I got carried away doing four sheets but I kept finding parts of buildings that I wanted to include. I now have to decide on which drawing to enter or do another one!

lanark under lockdown artwork by ronnie cruwys
Towers of St Nicholas’s Church and Greyfriars
lanark under lockdown artwork by ronnie cruwys
Finials and chimneys above the High Street

The drawings have been cropped into squares – top and bottom sections so you can have a good look.

lanark under lockdown artwork by ronnie cruwys
St Mary’s Church tower, the Girnin Dug and part of the Tolbooth

If you are a professional or amateur artist living in or near Lanark, there is still time to enter – closing date 1st June 2020. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of colour next month!

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

lanark under lockdown artwork by ronnie cruwys
Window on corner of Jack’s Ironmonger, Tolbooth and Christ Church

Station Cottages on the Grand Junction Railway

pen and ink monochrome
1-10 Station Cottages Baldwins Gate Staffordshire

I live a few hundred metres from the site of Whitmore’s old railway station booking office. The station itself closed in 1952. On first sight there’s nothing more remarkable than a blue plaque on a building with boarded up windows.

Even though I’ve lived in the area for 15 years, I didn’t pay much attention to it until a couple of years ago, when Staffordshire historian Andrew Dobraszczyc held a guided local history walk around Whitmore to speak about the influence that the new railway had on the buildings in our area.

Andrew informed us that construction of our present railway line, built by the Grand Junction Railway Company, began in 1835 and Whitmore was one of the principal stations on the line being the nearest to the Potteries.

station cottages photo
Roof tops of Station Cottages

During the walk, Andrew drew our attention to a short row of terraced houses tucked mostly out of sight behind the booking office. They are on a cul de-sac, set back from the main road and mostly hidden behind trees.

 

station cottages photo baldwins gate
Catching a glimpse of the cottages to the side of the Booking Office

 

When the railway first came to Whitmore, the company built four railway cottages, ‘two up, two down’ with a wash house out the back where 1841 records show that railway porters had made them their homes.

 

Station Cottages Baldwins Gate.jpg
Two friendly cats – one name Bella.

 

A few years later, another few cottages were added and they now stand at ten. These are worth recording and I made a few sketches before beginning the formal architectural drawing.

rain clouds station cottages
Second phase of the railway cottages

It’s timely to reflect on these buildings now because as I write the new HS2 railway line is mapped out to pass very close by here but this time around it won’t be stopping at Whitmore.  These buildings will remain, but there are many homes which are now up for sale where the line crosses their path.

pen and ink red ochre line drawing
First cottages to be built in the 1840’s were No’s 1-4

I will be scanning the drawing soon and plan to include this in my November exhibition at Gallery at 12 in Eccleshall. There will also be a small run of limited edition prints. Please get in touch (RonnieCruwys@drawingthestreet.co.uk) if you would like me to reserve a print.

pen and ink drawing baldwins gate station cottages
No’s 8, 9 and 10 Station Cottages, Baldwins Gate

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

A Splinter of Light

Visitors Room Ward 7D Fiona Stanley Hospital
Flowers for someone

On the top floor of the brand new Fiona Stanley hospital in Perth, there’s a dedicated visitors’ room complete with all you need to help yourself to a brew or chilled water thanks to donations from the Australian #DryJuly.  A perfect refuge for me who had just arrived from UK and was all at sixes and sevens with the seven hour time difference.

sketch of visitor room fiona stanley hospital
Boiling and Chilled water on tap, Ward 7D

This was an unplanned, hasty visit as my sister had been admitted to intensive care then moved to ward 7D.  She was so poorly.

I unplugged from all social media simply because I wanted to be fully present with my Aussie family.

My sketch book though is a great soother and even these bins became quite a focus when everything else was just too hard to take in. In spite of clear labels, when under stress – no one knows what to throw where!

bins in visitors room fiona stanley
Bins of confusion

Nights alternated between the ward and my temporary Aussie home, looking toward the river and my nieces’ childhood tree house, built to last over 20 years ago, by their Dad.

sketch of the tree house
Childrens’ tree house

sketch of gum leaves perth
Gum leaves

Every other night was spent on the recliner with Anne, on the top floor of the 5 star, state-of-the-art hospital, overlooking the city skyline.  A room with quite a view!

 

Towards the end of my visit, my sister gradually began to recover. Looking out between the blinds, we noticed an unexpected sky treat – a splinter of light which burst into a huge illuminated candle on the corner of Perth’s landmark QV1 building, designed by the architect Harry Seidler.

QV1 buildin Harry Seidler perth
5 minutes to six, a splinter of light on the QV1 building, Perth

splinter of light on harry Seidlers QV1 building
Splinter of light intensifies – 4 minutes to six

burst of light
6pm. Dazzling light on Harry Seidler’s QV1 building, Perth.

These are rare and treasured moments.

sketch of chair in Fiona Stanely hospital
Progress!

Asking to ‘go out’ for a coffee is a significant sign of improvement!

This has been an unforgettable and profoundly moving trip. Anne remains an outpatient under the watchful care of her healthcare team with a large question mark as to what treatment next. We are all so grateful for the extraordinary care, prayers and kindness given to Anne. They are received by all our family with gratitude.

going home
Farewell Perth

This post is for my nieces – with love and thanks, from Aunty Ron XX

A Stately Stoke Terrace

Pen and ink drawing of Fenton, artwork by Ronnie Cruwys
Corner of Hitchman Street and Victoria Road, Fenton, Stoke-on-Trent

Hitchman Street holds some interesting connections for me. When I first saw this red brick terrace, I was on my way to to deliver a framed print of an Audlem street to Williams of Audlem. Not knowing anything about the terraces in Fenton, I looked them up when I got home.

I was surprised to find that the land that these houses were built on was purchased in 1765 by the architect William Baker of Audlem. William Baker (‘the first’ as there were a few more to follow) bought ‘the estate and manor of Fenton Culvert, together with pottery, for his second son William Baker II’ (extract from Stoke Council’s conservation area appraisal). However, it was some generations later when William Meath Baker, the great grandson of the first William, commissioned these terraces. It’s all explained in the conservation appraisal.

William Meath Baker had inherited the Baker Pottery nearby and built these houses (and many others) to provide accommodation on a philanthropic model for the workers associated with the Baker Pottery.

red brick terrace in Fenton Stoke on Trent drawn by artist Ronnie Cruwys
Hitchman Street, Fenton

The Baker Pottery has gone now, but the kilns remain.

victoria-road-baker-kilns-fenton
Baker Pottery Kilns visible from Victoria Road

Pen and ink drwing of Victorian terracotta tile rosettes
Another example of the terracotta tiles on the gables.

Looking up these old threads, it never fails to unearth other connections. When I worked as a conservation architect in Stafford, I spent ten years as part of the team looking after the repair and upkeep of the grade 1 listed Chillington Hall, the south wing which was designed by Francis Smith of Warwick in 1724. Francis Smith was the celebrity architect of the Midlands in his day and it turns out that one of Smith’s pupils was the young William Baker of Audlem, learning from the master.

I’d like to think that an appreciation of good design has been passed down the generations. It certainly  shows up here in these terraces.

To see the drawings in full as well as a few more tile sketches, please visit www.drawingthestreet.co.uk

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

 

Tile Anorak

I’ve been keeping my eyes out for terracotta tiles which jazz up the fronts of late Victorian buildings and have begun to sketch and record them – their patterns and dates if provided. I had a hunch that they might give me a means to map connections with times and places.

Yesterday I was sketching in Islington, first along the Hornsey Road and then along Upper Street when I looked up and saw the very same tiles that I had sketched on a primary school in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Terracotta tiles
246 Upper Street, Islington

Yes, I’ve turned into a tile anorak…

However, the above sketches are the tiles which I drew from Hassell St School:

Victorian terracotta tiles, Newcastle under Lyme
Hassell St School, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

I’d love to know where these tiles were made. One source could be Blashfield’s

Another could be Gibbs and Canning of Tamworth.

Either way, the primary school in Newcastle-under-Lyme seems to have been ahead of the ornamental facade game by a few years – go ‘Castle!

Seen any tiles near you? Send me a pic with the location and any other info and I’ll add it to the log.

Thanks for reading and happy Friday wherever you are.

Ronnie

 

Terracotta Trail

Pen and ink stetch of terracotta tile newcastle Staffordshire Cruwys
Terracotta tile, King Street, Newcastle under Lyme

Last summer, I sketched a Victorian building in Newcastle-under-Lyme. This was a fine example with plenty of details , especially the terracotta tiles. Terracotta means ‘fired earth’ -and describes a form of  moulded clay masonry of a finer quality than standard bricks.

Sketching the building as a whole meant losing some of the finer details so I took a bit more time to draw these ornamental  terracotta tiles.

A month or so later, I was sketching in London and spotted these tiles on Cross St., Islington.

Cross St Islington.jpg

The following month I noticed more tiles on The Swimmer, the pub around the corner from where our son lives off the Holloway Road.

The Swimmer sketchbook.jpg

The Swimmer sketchbook2.jpg

It was then that I decided to keep a drawn record of all the architectural terracotta tiles that I come across whilst sketching and drawing the street as they form a quiet signature of a time and place. Looking into these tiles a little further, I read that ‘by the 1860s a number of eminent English architects had recognised terracotta’s value for mass-producing ornament and fine masonry by casting from an original, combining new technology with traditional craftsmanship’. Read more about this here

I thought I would make a start by sharing these sketched examples. The sketch below was a postcard original of the Swimmer tiles for a recent fund raiser for Shape Arts

the-swimmer-islington

Finally, I will sign off with this one sketched today – a collage of tiles from a local school – Hassell Primary, Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Hassell School tile 4.jpg

Thanks for reading,

Ronnie

Leek Sunny Side

York Street, Leek, North Staffordshire
York Street, Leek

I did a double take when I walked past York Street, Leek this summer. The most ordinary row of terraced houses transformed by the green-fingered, creative occupants into a shared garden enjoyed by inhabitants and passers-by alike. What a generous attitude!

York Street, terraced houses of Leek
Street Garden

It’s been a while since I’ve drawn a residential street, the last one was Well Street in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Looking back, I seem to be getting a bit more colourful!

This drawing has now been scanned and is up in full on my website Drawing the Street. The first few prints are now ready and they look great, thanks to Simon and Valerie at Smith York Printers, a signed limited edition of only 30 prints, 60cm long and £75 each, ready to go up in Gallery at 12‘s exhibition ‘A Winter Gathering’ at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek.

Hope to see some of you there at the Foxlowe Preview on Friday 18th November, at 7:00 pm.The exhibition runs until New Years Eve.

More about drawing the second Leek street to follow soon….

Bury and hilton and terraced houses on York Street Leekt
Bury Hilton Surveyors on York Street, Leek

Thanks for reading

Ronnie

flowers on york street leek
Hearts in the window and flowers on the door